Advanced 3-D Imaging Technique Used for First Time to View IPF in Lung Tissues


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IPF clinical trial

Researchers at the University of Southampton used an advanced, 3-D X-ray imaging technology for a first time on lung tissue samples from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) patients, gaining a better understanding of how the aggressive lung disease develops in the body. The study, “Three-dimensional characterization of fibroblast foci in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis” was published in the journal JCI Insight.

An IPF diagnosis is usually made with a computed tomography (CT) scan or with a microscope to analyze lung biopsy samples. But investigators at Southampton’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography used Microfocus CT to image the lung biopsy samples, allowing them to view each sample with great detail and in 3-D. The scanner rotates 360 degrees as it takes thousands of 2-D images, which are then used to make detailed 3-D images.

The researchers found large numbers of individual sites of active disease scarring in the IPF lung tissues — not the wavelike movement of active scarring, from outside to inside the lung, that was thought to mark the disease. The finding, they believe, may help in the development of targeted therapies.

“Whilst accurate diagnosis of IPF is essential to start the correct treatment, in certain cases this can be extremely challenging to do using the tools currently available. This technology advance is very exciting as, for the first time, it gives us the chance to view lung biopsy samples in 3D. We think that the new information gained from seeing the lung in 3D has the potential to transform how diseases such as IPF are diagnosed,” Dr. Mark Jones, a Wellcome Trust fellow from the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton, and the study’s lead author, said in a news release. “It will also help to increase our understanding of how these scarring lung diseases develop, which we hope will ultimately mean better targeted treatments are developed for every patient.”

Professor Ian Sinclair, director of the µ-VIS Centre, concluded: “Our centre examines a wide variety of objects from the layup of individual carbon fibres in aircraft wing components, to the delicate roots of growing plants, and now parts of the body. By being a multidisciplinary centre we have a wealth of expertise that have allowed us to apply this technology in a way that has not been done before. This work is of great significance to us, with the long-term potential to translate our research from the bench to the bedside of patients.”

IPF is the prototype fibrotic lung disease, marked by progressive scarring that leads to respiratory failure. The estimated median survival of three years after diagnosis is worse than many cancers. Despite the identification of activated fibroblasts as key effector cells that pathologically remodel the extracellular matrix, therapeutic options for the condition remain limited, and a better understanding of disease pathogenesis is required.